10 Jul Tisha b’Av Amidah Kavanot-First Blessing
“My Master! Open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise.”
Evening: Jeremiah said, “You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that prayer should not pass through (Lamentations 3:44).” I want to declare Your praise even if my prayers will not be heard!1
Morning: “Turn us to You, O God, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old; unless You have utterly rejected us; and are exceedingly angry against us – Turn us to You, O God, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old (Lamentations 5:21-22 – repeating 21).” We have not waited for You to return us to you, but reached out first, despite knowing our prayers would not be heard; so now, Open my lips, so my mouth may declare Your praise in a way that You will hear and accept!”
Afternoon: “He has called this day a Festival (Lamentations 1:15),” as we read this verse, so please allow my prayers to join Yours2
and for You to come and greet them at a Moed – a meeting, or fixed place.
Evening: We still acknowledge You as the Source of all Blessing even though You destroyed Your home and exiled us.
You judge each of us as our Lord, as You judge the entire nation; expressing even in the judgments meted out on Tisha b’Av, that our actions matter To You – You care about us. You are the Power, Expansive even in the Tisha b’Av punishments, Mighty in action against Your own Temple, and awesome in keeping us alive and vibrant in Exile.
You are above all powers and were the One Who empowered the Babylonians and Romans to destroy Jerusalem, yet, You continued to sustain and empower us to survive and thrive, and demonstrated that You are Master of All by keeping us alive through the ages.
You continue to relate to us as You promised the Patriarchs, and, even at this moment, we believe You will bring the Redeemer, if only for the sake of Your Name.
You help us when we are helpless, You Save us when we reach out to You, and You shield us when we Attach to You as You shielded Abraham from the fire of the furnace, and as You saved us from the countless fires of the Diaspora.3
Morning: It is in our relationship with You that we find blessing, especially as we refer to You in second person, You, despite Your distance.
We continue to acknowledge You as the Guider of each individual and all of history, as You guided the Patriarchs.
We continue to relate to You as, “The Power, Expansive, Mighty and Awesome,” even when Jeremiah and Daniel could not see Your Might and Awesomeness.4
We belong to You.
You are the Supreme Power,5
Who grants us independence through His Kindness,6
We know You remember us even when we experience You as distant just as You keep the merits of the Patriarch’s alive at every moment, keeping us alive through all the Tisha b’Avs of history, eventually bringing the Redeemer, in love.
You are the King even without the Temple, Who helps those who do not actively seek to improve, Save those who strive, and Shield those who attach to You8.
Source of all Blessing, Who shields us as He did Abraham.
We bless You9
Accessible10 even when seemingly distant
Who guides us with direct personal Divine Providence, and with General Providence11.
We strive to personalize our relationship with You as did the Patriarchs12 so that You will call Yourself by our names as You do as the Lord of Abraham, the Lord of Isaac, and the Lord of Jacob13.
We can, because You are the Supreme Power, Who Expands us, Owns and takes responsibility for everyone, and Who allows us to build on the foundations of the Patriarchs so that we can successfully create such love for Your Name that You will send the Redeemer.
The King of all Creation
Who helps us grow from negative experiences,
Who saves us each day
and Shields us from the unknown.
We Bless You
Who Shields the Descendants of Abraham forever.
1 There are other concepts that are included in this verse. Rabbeinu Yonah; Berachot 3a: says that the end of this pasuk of “Hashem, open…” is that Hashem does not want our sacrifices. This is an indication that David Hamelech was saying that “Since I sinned consciously there is no Korban for me to bring for atonement. Therefore, please Hashem, help me direct my Tefillos properly and to speak of Your wondrous actions, so that my prayer will be accepted and I will be forgiven.” The Sages therefore added this verse to our Shmone Esrei, now when we have no sacrifices. We too are asking as David that we are desperate without sacrifices. We know that we have nothing other than prayer. We must have help in directing our tefillot.
An obvious inference is that Tefillah is so powerful that it works even when a sacrifice cannot. This pasuk is the desperate cry of David Hamelech for Hashem to help him daven a prayer that will be effective when sacrifices are not. He has not even begun to pray for forgiveness. At this point, when he realizes that there is no hope for him other than prayer, David is pleading for Hashem’s help just to pray properly. If David needed to ask for Hashem’s help in davening, certainly we must as well. But, that request for help must be with the same awareness as David. We must realize that this is our only avenue to fix our world and to seek atonement for our sins. David was so overwhelmed by his “sin” with Batshevah that he was terrified even to pray.
2 The Gemara in Berachot 7a: asks, “How do we know that Hashem davens?…” This has powerful implications for us in general and more specifically when we recite this verse. The Gemara is saying that not only does Hashem help us daven, He Himself davens to have compassion on us. We are not davening alone. Hashem is also davening. He is not simply helping us pray, He is davening with us.
3 “Who helps, saves and shields us,” refers to different levels of Hashgacha Pratis. The level of God’s Divine Providence is determined by our awareness and use of it. (See Derech Hashem, Section 2, Chapter 3, paragraph 4.) The three steps of help, saving, and shielding each correspond to a higher level of Hashgacha based on our actions. The lowest level is help. One who is more aware will merit God’s saving him from difficult situations, and the most aware will merit being shielded from any harm.(See Teshuvot Rashbah, Vol. 5, # 176.)
4 The inclusion of this verse in the Shmone Esrei is a reflection of the greatness of human beings, and is the reason the leaders of those who built the second Beit Hamikdash were called the Men of the Great Assembly. They were “great” for including this phrase in our tefillah. The Gemara in Yoma 69b explains; “Why were they called Men of the Great Assembly? Because they restored the crown of the divine attributes to its completeness. Moshe had said, “God, great, powerful and awesome.” Then Yirmeyahu came and said “Nations are destroying His Temple. Where are his “awesome deeds? So he omitted the attribute “Awesome.” Daniel came and said, “Nations are enslaving His children. Where are His mighty deeds? So he omitted the attribute “Mighty.” But the Men of the Great Assembly came and said, “On the contrary! Therein lie His Mighty deeds that he suppresses His wrath, that He extends long patience to the wicked. Therein lies His awesomeness: For but for the fear of Him, how could one single nation persist among the many nations!” When the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah added this to our Tefillah they were restoring the glory of Hashem.
There is more. When they acknowledged God’s awesomeness and might even in the most desperate of situations they were restoring that level of His Divine Providence to the world. The court of the lower world joined with God to restore a higher level of Hashgacha Pratis.
This speaks of the power of human beings to bring a higher level of Hashgacha to the world. Humans did it. Again, this is a praise of God. He granted us extraordinary power in our relationship with Him. He gave us the ability to work in partnership with Him.
5 This phrase predates the giving of the Torah. It was uttered by Malki Tzedek, king of Shalem to Avraham. It refers to the revelation of Divine Providence without Torah. Malki Tzedek witnessed all that had happened in the major war that Avraham had just miraculously won. He understood that Avraham had been able to win only because he was helped by the hand of God. Malki Tzedek believed in God, but he had never witnessed or even understood that God was so involved with the world. He understood that Avraham was bringing an entirely new view of God to humanity. The words Kail Elyon are the expression of one who was shocked and thrilled to understand the world in an entirely new way. It was a human expression. It was not based on learning or prophecy. It was simply the observation of a human being.
The fact that it was spoken by one who is described as a Kohain L’Kail Elyon, a priest of the God,means that it came from within a relationship. Malki Tzedek could not have understood all that he had seen unless he already had a relationship with Hashem.
This means that those who have a relationship with Hashem can sense His Providence in their own lives and the world, not only from within the Torah. We all have opportunities to recognize Divine Providence in our daily lives. If such recognitions are within a relationship with Hashem, then they are also an acknowledgment of His being a Kail Elyon. The three Avot each understood Hashem from within the Creation. They used these ideas in forming their part of the two way relationship with Hashem, as can we.
6 Kindness can often create a crushing sense of dependency. All that God gives us in His chesed is done in such a way to make us feel a greater sense of self without feeling crushed. His chesed allows to work in partnership with Him. He grants us greatness. That is also why we use the word ”גומל“, which usually means to wean, as in weaning a child. He allows us to feel independent.
7 What each of the Avot accomplished was so real and tangible that we who live generations later can benefit from them. This too is a praise of Hashem, (remember, the first three blessings are praises of Hashem.) Hashem created us with the ability to develop our part of the relationship with Him, so that it is not simply something given by Him to us as a gift, so that we switch back and forth from a direct to a distant relationship. He gave us the ability to make it our own, so that we can hold on stronger to the direct relationship.
8 The Ramchal says in the second chapter of Mesillat Yesharim that it is imperative that we understand that we cannot defeat the Yetzer Harah without God’s help. Each one of these steps is a proportional response to our efforts in strategizing against the Yetzer Harah. The more one strategizes the more help gives infighting the Yetzer Harah until you can even reach a stage in which God shields you from the Yetzer Harah. This is important to keep in mind as we begin the process of serious Teshuvah. Promises are insufficient. Strategies and planning are absolutely necessary. On this day when Hashem is judging our potential, we must asks for specific help in this area. At this point of the Shmone Esrei, at which one may not make requests, one can say, “You, Who help in the battle with the Yetzer Harah will surely help me as I set out to do Teshuvah.”
9 In order to give a blessing one must have some control, something to give. If we are giving a bracha to Hashem that means that there is an area in which we have control. If there is an area in which we have control, it must obviously be a gift from Hashem. The key to this area of control can be found in the words of Chazal when they say:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף לג עמוד ב
Talmud Berachot 33b
הכל בידי שמים – חוץ מיראת שמים
Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of heaven””
“Except” means that there is an area in our control, and it is that area that gives us the ability to bless Hashem. Our ability to bless Hashem is and implies a bracha to man. It is a bracha to man not only because God has given us that ability, but because Hashem’s only interest is to benefit mankind, therefore if He has given us the ability to bless Him, it is for our benefit, not His. This ability also implies a bracha to man by virtue of the fact that the Creator of the world gave us the capacity to bless Him! Hashem has created us with the ability to “give” Him something. He is interested in a two way relationship. He doesn’t want us to be only recipients. He wants us to be givers as well.
10 Accessible in the sense that we are permitted to approach God as, “You,” directly.
11 Elokeinu refers to God as the Guider, King and Judge. Elokei Avoteinu means that we relate to Him through His relationship with our Avot. The revelation of God through which He relates to us is not through our recognition of Him but through the recognition that was set by the Avot. The recognitions of Moshe and David were a continuation of the recognitions of our Avot.
Divine Providence is God’s direct involvement in the life of each Jew, guiding him and pushing him to grow. General Providence is God’s control of the broader development of the world, moving it towards the fulfillment of its purpose.
12 We have switched from speaking to God in second person, addressing Him as “You,” to speaking of Him in third person, “He, Who…” We find this switch constantly in our prayers and berachot. We speak of Hashem as “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, Who fills the world with His Glory,” He fills this world. He is here. “Blessed be the Glory of God from His place,” His place, somewhere else, not here. In one verse He is present. In the next, He is removed. The reason for this is that although we have a two way relationship with Hashem, it was created entirely by one side of the relationship. It is incomplete. It all comes from Him. We must strive to make it our own. This is reflected in the next phrase;
13 Gedula, or greatness is always a synonym for Chesed. Chesed was the motivating force in the creation of the world. It was a burst of creativity that grew and grew. Chesed is enormous. Avraham saw a world filled with creativity and giving, and God wasn’t asking for anything in return. There was no service of God. The Torah had not yet been given. Avraham chose to emulate Hashem by giving and giving without asking for anything in return. Avraham not only discovered Hashem on his own, He chose to emulate Him as a way of serving Hashem. He also chose how to emulate God. By doing so Avraham created his part of the two way relationship.
Gevura, or Din, judgment, brings structure to the world. Yitzchak saw this clearly when he lay bound on a Mizbeach ready to be sacrificed to Hashem.. Everything belongs to Hashem. God is in absolute control, and can take what He wants. Yitzchak chose to use this attribute to serve Hashem and to create his part of the two way relationship.
God’s awesomeness is reflected in His ability to balance the Chesed and Din as He guides the world throughout history. Yaacov saw this as he watched all that happened to him in his life and how he was forced to deal with one difficult situation after another. Yaacov chose to emulate Hashem in this manner. He became the great balancer of twelve very powerful personalities, merging them into a whole.
What each of the Avot accomplished was so real and tangible that we who live generations later can benefit from them. This too is a praise of Hashem, (remember, the first three blessings are praises of Hashem.) Hashem created us with the ability to develop our part of the relationship with Him, so that it is not simply something given by Him to us as a gift, so that we switch back and forth from a direct to a distant relationship. He gave us the ability to make it our own, so that we can hold on stronger to the direct relationship.